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An Alien in Spain visits - Italy (Rome & Vatican City)

Sunday 19th January and we were setting off on the first leg of our round the world trip! Due to fly to Rome from Alicante airport we were notified that Alicante was closed due to fire damage to the roof and the imminent arrival of heavy storms heading south down the coast of Spain. We were got short notice that the flight would depart from Valencia airport instead, 3 hours later than scheduled so we decided to take the train from Alicante train station to Valencia airport.

After a friend dropped us off we queued to buy a ticket for 30 minutes only to be told the train was full. A decision was required, head back home and forget it or take an expensive taxi ride to Valencia, no choice really - so 2 hours later and 256 euros lighter in the pocket we arrived at Valencia airport amidst thunder and lightening and torrential rain. Later I was able to claim this back from Ryan Air who made no fuss and paid the money promptly.

The plane took off on time and we finally arrived in Rome and caught the pre-booked Terravision coach from the airport to the Termini Station in Rome, from where we walked to our Hotel, Oceana in Via Firenza where we would be spending the next 2 nights, and arrived about 23.00 hrs.

We were starving and the only place open at that time of night was McDonalds so we got stuck into our burgers and went to bed.

Our first full day in Rome with so little time and so much to see, so after a breakfast of cakes and coffee included in the price of the Hotel we set off to discover the sights of Rome. Our Hotel being in Via Firenze it was only a short walk to Palazzo del Quirinale and The Quirinal Palace one of residences of the Italian President from where you can get a fabulous view from the tallest of the seven hills of Rome across the city.

We had been made aware that the air quality in the city was so poor that no diesel cars were allowed on the streets in the centre of Rome and we had purchased face masks to fit in with others and there were relatively few people walking the streets as we set off sightseeing on our first day.

We walked about 7 hours that day and first off we visited The Colosseum but only from the outside where there were the normal crowds but not many Roman Guards or characters that normally frequent the area. We decided not to go in as you need to reserve an entry time and as the crowds were long and we did not have a lot of time for sightseeing this trip.

From The Colosseum we trudged up the Hill to look out over The Forum and then on to a little known Church of Santa Francesca Romana which is free to enter and houses the preserved body of the saint in the crypt. The church is hidden away but has a wonderful view of the Temple of Venus and Rome from its porch. We walked on past Basilica Aemilia and The Statue of Caesar overlooking the remains of The Imperial Forum.

Our walk was timed to bring us to Piazza Venezia considered the Centre of Rome which is intersected by numerous roads and overlooked by the magnificent Victor Emmanuel II National Monument or Vittoriano, improperly called Altare della Patria,(Altar of The Fatherland) which was built by Mussolini and is a national monument built in honour of Victor Emmanuel II, the first king of a unified Italy. The Monument also houses the Tomb of the unknown soldier located under the statue of the goddess Roma which has a 2 man guard on watch. One of the greatest attractions of the Monument to Victor Emmanuel is the panoramic view that can be seen from the terrace located at the same height as the chariots. The panoramic elevators are the only way to reach the upper part of the monument, cost 7 euro, but the amazing views make it worth the effort to climb.

The meal taken at Antica Roma had a fantastic view back across the Piazza and was perfect for people watching and it didn't hurt that the food was good.

After lunch we made our way towards the Pantheon but made a stop on the way at a The Church of Saint Ignatius The large fresco is the main piece of decoration of the church.The most famous painting represents the glory of Saint Ignatius of Loyola accompanied by the angels. The presbytery and the apse are works by Andrea Pozzo. The scenic effect is amazing: the apse wall seems multilateral while in reality it is a concave wall.

Only a short walk and we made it to The Piazza della Rotonda where you will find The Pantheon, now a Catholic church, on the site of an earlier Roman T

emple commissioned by Marcus Agrippa during the reign of Augustus. It was completed by the emperor Hadrian and probably dedicated about 126 AD.

The most surprising aspect of the architecture in the Pantheon is its measurements: the circular building has exactly the same diameter as its height: 43.5 metres.

The dome, which has the same diameter, is bigger than that of St. Peter's Basilica. At its top, a 9 meter diameter opening allows natural light to illuminate the entire building. In the interior of the Pantheon are the tombs of numerous Italian kings and a multitude of art works can be found. The best-known person who can be found buried in the Pantheon is without doubt the painter and Renaissance architect Raphael.

From out side The Pantheon in The Piazza Della Rotonda can be found the San't Eustachio Fountain which pales into insignificance when you see the magnificent Fountains of the Four Rivers in the famous Piazza Navona.

Fontana dei Quattro Fiumi to give it it's real name is a fountain that was designed in 1651 by Gian Lorenzo Bernini and after viewing this there was only one place we could finish off with on our way back at the end of the first day.

The Trevi Fountain - Besides "La Dolce Vita", when Anita Ekberg jumped into the Trevi Fountain with her clothes on, the massive monument has been featured in many films including probably the most famous "Roman Holiday" as well as "Three Coins in the Fountain" always guaranteed to be crowded,

According to legend, tossing one coin into the Trevi Fountain means you'll return to The Eternal City (Rome), tossing two coins means you'll return and fall in love, and tossing three coins means you'll return, find love, and marry. Luck or no luck, your money goes to a good cause.The collected money is given to the charity Caritas Roma and goes toward supporting soup kitchens, shelters, and any other efforts that might have a positive impact on Rome’s poverty-stricken communities.

After a quick change of clothes we made our way to a local family restaurant "Da Giovanni" situated close by in Via Antonio Salandra and recommended by our hotel -Unfortunately, the meal although palatable was nothing special and we retired worn out but ready for the next day.

Next morning we skipped breakfast at the hotel in favour of a cafe we found the day before near Piazza Navona called "Friends" however it was a big mistake as the service and food proved a big disappointment and after complaining we left without eating the food delivered to our table at the third attempt and still not acceptable. We found another cafe nearby " anni 60" which was excellent and had a good fill before setting off for the walk to cross the river Tiber at Umberto 1 Bridge to take in the magnificent facade of Corte Suprema di Cassazione as you cross, turn left and walk along the river bank taking in all the stalls selling souvenirs and pictures, past Castel St. Angelo (worth a visit if you have time) completing the 1 km walk to Vatican City.

On arrival at St, Peters Square expect a long, long queue to get into St. Peters Basilica and you will not be disappointed but it moves quickly and entry to the main part of the building is completely free and allow an hour to have a good look around.

If you want to view the Michelangelo Iconic ceiling painting of the Sistine Chapel you will need to leave St Peters and walk to The Vatican Museum, the entrance is situated a good ten minutes away in Viale Vaticano, and entry will cost you 17 euros each to get in with a further 5 euro for the audio headset in English.

Be aware that the museum has a long tour and a short tour we had little time so took the short self tour but I would recommend the long tour if you have time.

The Vatican Museum is vast and is home to many of the worlds art treasures so take your time and appreciate them rather than rush to the Sistine Chapel where visitors are let in in groups and given a set time before being moved on and a new group replaces them and NO PHOTOS in the chapel, it is forbidden, although the one shown here was taken by my companion before she was told - oops.

After all the walking and sightseeing of a very long day you will definitely be tempted by the sight that meets you on leaving the Museum in the guise of Caffe Vaticano but don't be - although we thoroughly enjoyed the 2 scoops of Gelato on a plate with biscuits and a spoonful of fruit we nearly choked when the bill arrived and it was 13 euros 50 each.

Instead go to the bottom of the road, cross the road, turn right and walk until you find Old Bridge Gelateria which is The original branch of a famed ice cream shop, selling traditional, fresh fruit gelatos & yogurt excellent and cheaper.

Retracing our steps along the river bank we crossed the next bridge after Umberto 1 which brings you near Palazzo Borghese , the Palace that was the main seat of the infamous Borgias although again time restraints stopped us viewing.

We progressed along Via del Corso which is a wonderful street full of the boutique shops selling the high class goods Italy / Rome is famous for as well as side streets of Italian cafes and restaurants. At the end of the road you will enter the grand Piazza del Popolo a landmark square centred by Rome's oldest obelisk & the site of the city's northern gate. Here you will also find the Church of Saint Mary 'in Montesanto' and a cafe on the corner a great place to people watch.

From The Piazza we took a street running in almost the same direction as Via del Corso called Via del Babuino which again had fashionable shops and restaurants all the way to Piazza di Spagna where again you will need to brave the crowds around the iconic Spanish Steps.

The last time I was in Rome you were able to hang out on the steps ( Pic 1) but now there is a guard and you are not allowed to sit on the steps ( Pic 2)

We ate dinner in what looked like a good restaurant choosing a set menu. Another bad choice, it wasn't good value and we ended up in a cake shop grabbing a cappuccino and slice of cake on the way back to the hotel which were delicious. Long day so we got back and packed our cases ready for an early start.

Off on the next leg of our trip to Tokyo, Japan.

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